#19 - WITCHCRAFT, SORCERERS AND SPELLS
Yarmouth Vanguard, May 9, 1989
Witchcraft, in one form or another, has been spoken of as far back as history has been recorded. Some persons really have had the power to cast spells on people or animals or things. You have all read or heard about people who would have acquired this power from the devil to whom they would have given their soul. All this, though, is rather in the realm of legends. Most of the time, people, in their ignorance, not being able to explain certain evil occurences, blame them on the so-called "sorcerers."
Those so-called "sorcerers" have existed at the time of our immediate ancestors. Even those spells or charms brought down to us by tradition are so numerous that it would take a whole book to narrate them all. An old French missionary, by the name of father Amable Petithomme, who from 1836 to 1839 was pastor of Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, which comprised then all the French villages of Yarmouth County, tells us of wizards' books of spells that the Acadians were making use of, although this is the only mention that we have of them.
There would have been though a little red book that "Coche" would have gotten from the mate of a barkentine in Yarmouth, to which he gave the name of HOCUS POCUS, of which Frank J. Pothier tells us about in his booklet "Acadians at Home" (1957). "Croche" was Louis Doucet, son of Charles, himself called "Tania", of Quinan. He had learned to throw his voice. So he thought he would have a lot of fun with his HOCUS POCUS. Frank J. Pothier tells us that from a scrap of pewter, he cut a piece to fit into this precious book. Now, to fool the public, he would open the book at random to which he would address a question, then place the pewter over the leaf, throw his voice to make believe that the answer came from the pewter, which he would hold over the book-leaf. He frightened so many people with his Hocus Pocus that Father Morin, who had preceded Father Petithomme, ordered Croche to be at church on a certain Sunday. There he asked him to kneel and deliver the little red book, which Father Morin tore to pieces in front of the whole congregation. And it was the end of the superstitious beliefs that Croche had created among the people.
The best-known among those sorcerers at that time was David Doucet, tall, well built, called for that reason "Le Grand David", but better known by tradition as "Le Sorcier" (the Sorcerer), or even "Le Maître des Sorciers". Is it because he could perform magic that we find him at several different places, even seemingly at the same time? Born most probably at Muise's Point, the "Pointe-des-Ben" of the French people, beyond Sluice Point, the son of Michel, we find him in Quinan, at Rocco Point and in Plympton, Digby County, where he founded the "Doucet Settlement". It would seem that as soon as he would get somewhere, evil events would take place. I can reassure his great grandchildren, though, that they do not have to fret of having inherited anything of his sorcery, which existed only in the minds of the people.
In Meteghan, there was "Cye", known also as "Cye à Mateur" (son of Mathurin). Having given his soul to the devil (so it was said), he was able to do the most prodigious and incredible feats. He liked to dance, which at the time was considered to be a dangerous and frivolous pastime. The story goes that he would cross the Bay of Fundy and reach Boston on the bark of a tree, faster than lightning, and reach a dance hall. Many, many other strange "out of this world" stories have been told about Cye. According to some old people, one day, he was taken by force to the church, in Meteghan, where the pastor would have exorcised him, although none of this has been recorded in any church registers.
In one of Father Sigogne's registers we read that at the end of October, 1810, while he was in Church Point, he was summoned to come to take care of "the deranged girls of Tusket," meaning Tusket Wedge, now Wedgeport. People were wondering if these girls were under a spell or even if they were possessed by the devil. We know of this Rosalie Cottreau, who, now and then, had convulsions or fits; and people were wondering if it would not be the effect of an evil spell. Probably Father Sigogne saw right away that what she needed was not a priest but a doctor.
Her father, having heard of this colored fellow from Shelburne who had the reputation of dispelling demons and their charms, sent him a message to come to cure his daughter. But what was his surprise when he saw the colored man from Shelburne enter the house with his long-barrel rifle. He asked to see the girl. After examining her from head to toes, he started to load his gun with powder; instead of putting lead in it, he put a coin. Then he said to the father that there was a sorcerer who had cast a spell on his daughter, "someone who is jealous of you, although you do not know him. You do not even know where he lives. He might be in France (where the father came from), or anywhere. But you are going to see how I am going to take care of him, fire on him and kill him". It is then that the father, who was a very honest man, who never had wanted at any time in his life to harm anyone, fell on his knees, pleading with the colored man not to fire his gun, adding that he would rather die himself than destroy a soul. So the colored man from Shelburne, after receiving his pay, had only one thing to do, go back home.
Well, as the story goes, Rosalie got married, and it seems that it put an end to her spell.
But she was not entirely rid of "sorcery". In fact, it is said that two of her daughters, who got married in Salmon River, became victims of witchcraft. One of them, Betty, used to hear noises in the house she was living in. It came to a point where she had to leave her husband and come to her mother in Wedgeport. Well, it seems that this time the blame was laid on the shoulders of another sorcerer, Alexander Mius, son of Grégoire, of Muise's Point, that people used to call "Jarret", the French word for the bend of the knee; speaking to people, he used to strike under their knees to stress a point. Remembering the colored man who had come from Shelburne for her, whom her father had gotten rid of, Rosalie appealed again to "an old colored man", so goes the story, without telling us if he was the same one who had come for her 30 years before. All that we know of his performance is that he made all sorts of "stupidities" and "make-beliefs", so it is written, adding that she had nothing to be afraid of from now on, that he had punished "Jarret" for good. And it was the end of sorcery in Wedgeport and, as far as I know, among the Acadians in Yarmouth County.